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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Copper River Salmon Fishery Delivers Record Opener Prices


Harvesters in the Copper River fishery, braving opening day rain and temperatures in the low 40s, made 481 deliveries for the season opener on May 18, including 1,879 Chinooks and 36,066 sockeye salmon.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Cordova office said average weights for the opener were 19.9 pounds for kings and 5.2 pounds for reds. Those weights rose to 20.8 pounds on average for kings and 5.3 pounds for reds on the second opener May 22, with 439 deliveries to processors, including 1,737 kings and 51,860 reds.

That brought the total for the first two openers to 920 deliveries, 3,616 kings and 87,926 red salmon. Harvesters have also delivered 1,047 chum salmon whose weight averaged 6.9 pounds on the first opener and 7.4 pounds on the second.

The Copper River fishery got underway a week later than usual because of Chinook salmon conservation efforts. Jeremy Botz, gillnet area management for Prince William Sound, cautioned against comparing the first run 2017 harvest to that of a year ago, which brought in some 2,000 kings and 59,000 sockeyes.

The king salmon forecast for the Copper River this year is 29,000 fish, the smallest since 1985. An Alaska Airlines 737 delivered 22,000 pounds of fresh Copper River salmon to Seattle on May 19, one the first of four scheduled flights from Cordova that day. By day’s end, the airline had delivered 77,000 pounds of fresh reds and kings to markets in Seattle and Anchorage.

Every year the airline partners with Ocean Beauty Seafoods, Trident Seafoods and Copper River Seafoods to deliver the salmon catch to Seattle, Anchorage and beyond.

The arrival of the first Copper River salmon of the season was celebrated in Seattle with much hoopla. Three of Seattle’s best chefs competed in the eighth annual Copper Chef Cook-off for the best salmon recipe. The winner was executive chef John Sundstrom of Lark restaurant. In Anchorage, celebration included the sampling of gourmet appetizers topped with fresh wild sockeye salmon, courtesy of Copper River Seafoods. A 45-pound king salmon donated by Ocean Beauty Seafoods was declared the season’s first fish, the catch of the day.

Opener prices to fishermen were $8 a pound for sockeyes and $11 for Chinooks, up from $7 and $9 respectively a year ago, said Scott Blake, president and chief executive officer of Copper River Seafoods.

High retail prices aside for first run Copper River salmon failed, as usual, to deter consumers eager for the first fresh salmon of the season.

At 10th & M Seafoods in Anchorage, fillets were $38.95 a pound for sockeyes and $59.95 a pound for kings.Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle hailed the fresh Copper River fish on its website, which pictured its fishmongers whole kings, going for $55.99 a pound and whole reds, at $143.96 a fish. Pike Place also had Copper River king fillets for $74.99 a pound and Copper River sockeye fillets for $47.99 a pound.

Prices will decline rapidly as more fish come in from the Copper River district and soon from other areas in Alaska.

Updates on Alaska’s commercial wild salmon harvest are online at http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=commercialbyfisherysalmon.bluesheet

NOAA Fisheries Surveys Underway for Alaska Coast


Federal fisheries scientists are off to their surveys of Alaska’s coastline, monitoring for distribution and abundance of groundfish, crabs and other bottom dwelling species, and measuring various biological and environmental data.

“Long term, scientific surveys like this are really important,” said Doug DeMaster, director of the NOAA Fisheries Alaska Fisheries Science Center.

While the surveys sample a very small percentage of the ocean, biologists are able to detect changes to marine ecosystems over broad areas over time with the help of a little math,” DeMaster said. NOAA scientists and their collaborators sort, weigh and count species collected by each trawl. They will also gather specimens and data on various species, including a Gulf of Alaska project that involves deploying a camera and plankton pump to test whether or not larval rockfish associate with deep-sea corals.

The Gulf of Alaska continental shelf and upper continental slope survey includes two chartered fishing vessels, the F/V Sea Storm and F/V Ocean Explorer. Estimates of fish biomass and population derived from this survey will be used in annual stock assessments of Gulf of Alaska groundfish and ecosystem models. The survey began at Dutch Harbor on May 23 and runs through August 6, ending in Ketchikan.

The annual Eastern Bering Sea continental shelf bottom trawl survey, aboard the fishing vessels Alaska Knight and Vesteraalen, May 30 through August 8, monitors the status and trends in commercial fish and shellfish stocks, with the focus on walleye Pollock, Pacific cod, Greenland turbot, yellowfin sole, northern rock sole, red king crab, snow and Tanner crab. The survey begins and concludes at Dutch Harbor.

The Northern Bering Sea survey departs from Nome on August 8 aboard the Alaska Knight and Vesteraalen, and concludes August 30, with the vessels returning to Dutch Harbor. This survey monitors fish, crab and other bottom dwelling marine life in response to changing environmental conditions and loss of seasonal sea ice. This survey was last conducted in 2010, but scientists hope to conduct the survey biennially to more carefully monitor ecosystem changes.

The Gulf of Alaska surface trawl assessment survey and Southeast Alaska coastal monitoring, within the southeastern region of the Gulf aims to provide ecological data on pelagic ecosystems, examine oceanographic transport mechanisms, measure lower trophic level production and quantify age-0 marine fish, and juvenile salmon distribution and ecology. Plans are to repeat in August the pilot age-0 sablefish survey, NOAA officials said.

NOAA Fisheries and partners will conduct a fisheries and oceanography survey this summer and fall in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, from August 1 to late September. They will assess distribution, relative abundance, diet, energy density, size and potential predators of juvenile salmon, other commercial fish, and forage fish.

Alaska Legislature Confirms Board of Fisheries Appointments


The Alaska Legislature has confirmed the reappointments of two incumbents and one former member to the Alaska Board of Fisheries for terms to run through June 30, 2020.

Returning are chairman John Jensen of Petersburg and member Reed Moriski of Fairbanks. Former member Fritz Johnson of Dillingham, who holds a harvester seat on the board of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, will replace Sue Jeffrey of Kodiak, appointed in 2011. Jeffrey, the board’s vice chair, opted not to return. Their terms begin on July 1, 2017.

Emergency Copper River Petition Fails Before Board of Fisheries


The Alaska Board of Fisheries defeated an emergency petition that would have resulted in more closures and restrictions on the Copper River salmon fishery. The decision taken during a special meeting of the fisheries board in Anchorage came just a day before the famed fishery begins.

Members of the Fairbanks Fish and Game Advisory Committee had proposed in their petition additional emergency action on the commercial fishery to assure a sustainable escapement goal for king salmon for the Copper River.

Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) Commissioner Sam Cotten noted that the Copper River Fishery is a directed sockeye commercial fishery, with incidental harvest of other salmon.

ADF&G officials have said they do not expect this year’s king salmon run forecast and anticipated low level of Chinook harvests to affect the long-term sustainability of Copper River king stocks.

Cotten told the Board of Fisheries that the agency has the tools with the existing management plan and its emergency order authority to manage the king salmon stocks in the Copper River in 2017 to meet the sustainable escapement goal.

O’Bryant Named President of Cannon Fish Company

Fisheries industry veteran Bob O’Bryant has been appointed as president of Cannon Fish Company (CFC), a seafood processing and marketing firm in Kent, Washington, and subsidiary of the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association (APICDA).

He succeeds Pat Rogan, who will continue with Cannon Fish through the transition period in June.

O’Bryant most recently served as vice president of sales and marketing for Bornstein seafood in Bellingham, Washington. The majority of O’Bryant’s career was with Pacific Seafood Group, where his many responsibilities included serving as general manager of Starfish, a consumer packaged goods brand known for developing and launching a successful gluten-free breaded seafood line. He was also general manager of Salmolux, the smoked salmon division, and as the marketing director for Pacific Seafood Group.

Larry Cotter, chief executive officer of APICDA, said CFC has matured since acquisition in 2013 and now was the right time for new leadership to maximize the company’s potential.

APICDA is one of six Western Alaska community development quota corporations established in 1992, with allocations of a percentage of all Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands quotas for groundfish, halibut and crab.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Fish Sticks Donated to Bristol Bay Region

More than 7,000 pounds of Alaska Pollock fish sticks have been delivered to Alaska’s Bristol Bay region, for hunger relief in Dillingham and surrounding communities.

The donation from SeaShare, a Seattle-based nonprofit that provides seafood to food banks, comes via a combined effort with the Bristol Bay Native Association, Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation, Trident Seafoods, and AML/Lynden.

Trident Seafoods, a longtime SeaShare partner, donated the Pollock, and AML/Lynden donated the cost of freight to Dillingham.

The fish sticks will be stored in a freezer container that SeaShare installed in partnership with the Port of Dillingham this past year. This is the third time the container has been filled, with more than 20,000 pounds of seafood donated by SeaShare in Bristol Bay over the past year.

The Bristol Bay Native Association will distribute the Pollock to people struggling with hunger throughout the region, with Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation providing a grant to assist with the cost of labor.

Barbara Nunn, food bank manager for BBNA, said the fish sticks will feed many low income families. The food bank currently feeds roughly 272 households in 15 communities in the Bristol Bay region, and many people depend on this seafood to help them get by, Nunn said.

Seashare donated more than 185,000 pounds of high protein seafood throughout Alaska last year, and 30,000 pounds went to remote villages in Western Alaska. SeaShare is the only domestic non-profit dedicated to bringing seafood to food banks. Founded in 1994, SeaShare has to date donated over 210 million servings of seafood to food banks across the United States.

Additional Requirements Sought for Bering Sea

Increased vessel traffic in the Bering Sea has prompted the Alaska House of Representatives to call for additional spill prevention measures and vessel monitoring requirements.

House Joint Resolution 19, which passed last night in Juneau by a vote of 33-6, urges Gov. Bill Walker and the state’s congressional delegation, to include Arctic Marine Safety Agreements in international agreements with Alaska’s coastal neighbors.

Rep. Dean Westlake, a Democrat from the Northwest Alaska community of Kiana, is the sponsor of the resolution. Westlake said the Arctic presents tremendous opportunity, but also challenges.

Vessels transiting the Bering Sea that don’t call on US ports are not subject to US and Alaska safety or spill prevention measures. The inclusion of Arctic Marine Safety Agreements, which may include spill prevention measures and vessel monitoring requirements, has support from the Arctic Waterways Safety Commission, with representatives from Arctic municipalities, marine mammal hunting groups, and ship operators.

Westlake said he supports development of the region and shipping that lowers the costs of goods worldwide, but wants to make sure it is done as safely as possible.

The resolution now goes to the Alaska State Senate for consideration.

EPA Settlement Agreement Allows Pebble Permitting to Proceed

A settlement reached this week between the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Pebble Limited Partnership (PLP) allows the permitting process for the development of a mine near the headwaters of the Bristol Bay watershed to begin.

The settlement opens the door for mine backers to apply for a Clean Water Act permit from the US Army Corps of Engineers before the EPA move forward with its Clean Water Act process to specify limits on disposal of certain material in connection with the mine.

In turn, PLP agreed to drop lawsuits and requests for fees from the EPA related to Clean Water Act restrictions. The settlement has enraged many groups who harvest wild salmon from the Bristol Bay watershed, including commercial fishermen. Bristol Bay, famed for its run of millions of wild sockeye salmon, is a multi-million dollar commercial fishery also valuable to sport anglers, subsistence fishermen and the region’s abundant wildlife. The Pebble Limited Partnership, a subsidiary of the Canadian mining entity Northern Dynasty Minerals, meanwhile is hailing the settlement as a major step forward for the project.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt issued a statement saying that the agreement “will not guarantee or prejudge a particular outcome, but will provide Pebble a fair process for their permit application and help steer EPA away from costly and time consuming litigation.”

Pebble officials say they now have a clear path to proceed with a normal permitting and review process, removing a major stumbling block to finding new investors.

Mine opponents, from Senator Maria Cantwell, D-WA, to Norm Van Vactor, president and chief executive officer of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. say the EPA’s decision was wrong. “We will do whatever it takes to protect Bristol Bay,” Van Vactor said during a news conference in Dillingham, Alaska, after the EPA decision was made public.

“Bristol Bay needs and deserves certainty that our sustainable industries and world class salmon fishery will continue,” said Joseph Chythlook, chairman of the Bristol Bay Native Corp. “Any settlement between EPA and Pebble moves us further away from that potential result."

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Federal Report Details Drop in Seafood Revenues
in 2015

New federal reports on fisheries economics in the United States released on May 9 show that the seafood industry generated $144 million in sales in 2015, including imports, a 6 percent decline from the previous year. The industry also supported 1.2 million jobs, a decline of 15 percent from 2014, but still above the five-year average.

In Alaska alone, the industry provided a total of 53,441 jobs in 2015— 37,762 commercial harvesters, 12,384 seafood processors and dealers, 24 importers, 365 seafood wholesalers and distributors and 2,905 jobs in retail trade. Imports included, the Alaska seafood industry had $4.4 million in sales and $1.8 million in income.

Factors such as the “warm blob,” marine toxins and El Nino affected the Pacific marine environment in 2015, and West Coast fishermen saw lower landings and revenue for several key commercial species.

The reports also note that US fisheries continued to rebuild in 2016, with the number of stocks on the overfishing and overfished lists remaining near all-time lows. A stock appears on the overfishing list when the catch rate is too high, and as overfished when the population size of a stock is too low, either because of fishing or other causes such as environmental changes. “These reports show that the U.S. is on the right track when it comes to sustainably managing our fisheries, said Sam Rauch, acting assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries.

“Rebuilding and keeping stocks at sustainable levels will help us address the growing challenge of increasing our nation’s seafood supply and keep us competitive in a global marketplace.”

Combined commercial and recreational fishing generated $208 billion in sales, contributing $97 billion to the gross domestic product in 2015 while supporting 1.6 million full-time and part-time jobs, which was above the five-year average.

The complete “NOAA’s Fisheries Economics of the United States” is available online at https://www.st.nmfs.noaa.gov/economics/publications/feus/fisheries_economics_2015/index. NOAA Fisheries annual stock status update was also released on May 9 and can be found at http://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/sfa/fisheries_eco/status_of_fisheries/status_updates.html

Togiak Herring Fishery Winds Down

The Togiak herring fishery, which opened on April 28, closed to purse seiners on May 7, while the gillnet fishery area increased westward to the longitude of Anchor Point, according to area biologist Tim Sands with Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G).

Through May 6, the purse seine harvest showed 1,830 tons after subtracting documented dead loss, but ADF&G determined there is not enough quota remaining to justify additional fishing.

The gillnet fleet’s harvest has so far remained confidential.

ADF&G thanked processors for assistance collecting herring samples used to generate age composition estimates of the harvest and future biomass estimates.

“We would also like to thank the spotter pilots for all the updates they provided,” Sands said. The purse seine harvest for May 4 was 2,805 tons and 445 tons for May 5 , bringing the cumulative purse seine harvest to 14,145 tons with a reported roe percentage of 11.3 percent and an average size of 413 grams through May 6, according to ADF&G.

The season opened on April 28, with an allocation of 16,060 tons for seiners and 6,883 tons for gillnetters, but the fish were not yet mature enough to harvest.

As the fishery got underway, there were eight gillnetters and 19 seiners fishing, but Sands said he expects that by season’s end there will be 19 gillnetters out there too.

Last year just three gillnetters participated in the Togiak herring district.

The reason for the potential increase in participating gillnetters is optimism about the price. “They are hoping for a better price than last year,” Sands said.

The estimated value of the 2016 fishery was $1.52 million, based on $100 per ton, not counting post-season adjustments.

ADF&G officials said department staff flew a survey of the Togiak herring district on April 28 under poor conditions and saw herring along Cape Constantine, outside of Kulukak Bay, in the northeast corner of Togiak Bay and along the east face of Hagemeiter Island. The biologists were able to document a threshold biomass of 35,000 tons of herring on that survey.

Omnibus Bill Includes Benefits for Alaska Fisheries

The omnibus bill passed by the US Senate on May 5 to keep the federal government running through September includes components to help sustainably maintain Alaska’s world-class fisheries, says Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

The senator, who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee, was successful in including a provision that blocks the Food and Drug Administration from introducing genetically engineers salmon into the market until the FDA publishes labeling guidelines so customers know exactly what they are buying.

Murkowski also secured language to amend the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to update the FDA’s seafood list to change the acceptable market name of brown king crab to golden king crab.

The bill also includes millions of dollars in funding for upgrades to the U.S. Coast Guard base at Kodiak, materials for construction of a polar icebreaker, offshore patrol cutters, and fast response cutters.

Also included in the bill for fisheries science, research and management on a national scale is $164 million for fisheries data collection, surveys and assessments; $34.3 million for regional councils and fisheries commissions, $33.5 million for salon management activities, $10.5 million for integrated ocean acidification research, $65 million for the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, $12 million to fulfill obligations under the Pacific Salmon Treaty, and $130 million in Saltonstall-Kennedy funds to promote and develop fishery products and research pertaining to American fisheries.

The National Sea Grant College Program was allocated $63 million, hydrographic surveys of the nation’s coastline $27 million, and the National Weather Service $979.8 million.

Werner Named to Northwest Fisheries Science Center

NOAA Fisheries has announced the appointment of Kevin Werner as the new science and research director for NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center, effective May 14.

As director, Werner will continue the work of planning, developing and managing a multidisciplinary program of basic and applied research on the living marine resources in the Pacific Northwest, specifically Washington, Oregon and Northern California coasts, and in freshwater rivers of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.

A former NOAA Corps officer who has held various positions with the organization for nearly two decades, Werner has won multiple awards for his leadership and administrative accomplishments.

Prior to being named director of the Northwest Center, he was the director of NOAA’s National Weather Service Office of Organizational Excellence, coordinating NOAA’s climate services investments in an eight-state region of the Western US.

Werner holds a doctorate in political science and master’s in public administration from the University of Utah, and masters in atmospheric sciences and bachelor’s degree in atmospheric sciences and mathematics from the University of Washington.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Northern Edge Exercises Under Way in Gulf of Alaska

Biennial military training exercises known as Northern Edge are underway in Alaska, including the Gulf of Alaska, where commercial fisheries critical to many coastal communities are also about to begin.

Major participants, there to sharpen their tactical combat skills and communication relationships, include the US Pacific Command, Alaskan Command, US Pacific Fleet, Air National Guard, and other military units.

Their presence is again raising concerns among fishermen and environmentalists worried about potential adverse impact of training exercises.

Marine conservation biologist Rick Steiner, of Anchorage, cites a National Marine Fisheries Service report that says species expected to be adversely impacted by the Navy exercises include several species of whales, sea lions and seals, as well as threatened runs of coho and chum salmon and steelhead trout. While the NMFS biological opinion and an environmental impact study by the Navy simply predict impact, based on existing scientific literature, the actual impact of these exercises needs to be measured with a real time environmental monitoring program conducted during the exercise, but the Navy has refused a request that it conduct such studies, Steiner said.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, recently urged the US Pacific Command to give serious thought to conducting the Gulf of Alaska component of Northern Edge 2019 in the fall. The senator said she understood that this alternative is under consideration and noted that it is important that the Navy’s consideration of this alternative be transparent to affected communities.

In spite of the Navy’s improved outreach, there remains dissatisfaction with respect to the timing of the exercise, specifically its proximity to the fishing season in the Gulf of Alaska. “Some stakeholders argue that scientific knowledge is insufficient to assure that the Navy’s activities during this sensitive time are fully compatible with the region’s commercial fishing economy,” she said.

She also urged the Navy to continue working with communities and stakeholders during and after Northern Edge 2017. “If adverse environmental impacts are identified in the course of the exercise, it is important that they be immediately addressed,” she said.

Herring Fishery Begins at Togiak

The Togiak herring fishery is under way in Southwest Alaska, with a cumulative purse seine harvest through May 2 of 7,980 tons, with a reported roe percentage of 10.8 percent and an average size of 424 grams.

Area biologist Tim Sands, with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at Dillingham, said the purse seine harvest for May 1 was 3,375 tons and for May 2 was 2,325 tons.

The gillnet fleet has started fishing, but that harvest will remain confidential for now, Sands said. The fishery remains open with no new changes to the accessible areas.

The season began on April 28, with an allocation of 16,060 tons for seiners and 6,883 tons for gillnetters, but the fish were not yet mature enough to harvest.

As the fishery got underway, there were eight gillnetters and 19 seiners fishing, but Sands said he expects that by season’s end there will be 19 gillnetters out there too.

Last year only three gillnetters participated in the Togiak herring district. The reason for the potential increase in participating gillnetters is optimism about the price. “They are hoping for a better price than last year,” Sands said.

The estimated value of the 2016 fishery was $1.52 million, based on $100 per ton, not counting post-season adjustments.

ADF&G officials said department staff flew a survey of the Togiak herring district on April 28 under poor conditions and saw herring along Cape Constantine, outside of Kulukak Bay, in the northeast corner of Togiak Bay and along the east face of Hagemeiter Island. The biologists were able to document a threshold biomass of 35,000 tons of herring on that survey.

Lowell Wakefield Fisheries Symposium Set for May 9–11 in Anchorage

Discussion on the latest research on changing fisheries is on tap for the 31st annual Lowell Wakefield Fisheries Symposium, May 9-11 at the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage. This year’s symposium will examine the impact of a changing environment on the dynamics of high-latitude fish and fisheries.

“What we learn at the meeting will provide strategic advice to managers about how to manage fish stocks in a changing environment,” said Franz Mueter, a fisheries professor at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and symposium co-chair.

Professor Hans-Otto Portner of the Alfred Wegener Institute of Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven, Germany, is the symposium’s keynote speaker.

Other invited speakers include Anna Neuheimer, University of Hawaii; Christian Mollmann, University of Hamburg; Brad Seibel, University of South Florida; Charles Sock, NOAA Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory; Cody Szuwalski, University of California Santa Barbara, and Kathy Mills, Gulf of Maine Research Institute.

The focus will be on the effects of warming, loss of sea ice, ocean acidification, and oceanographic variability on the distribution, phenology, life history, population dynamics and interactions of artic and sub-artic species.

Symposium topics will include the influence of ocean temperatures on Chinook salmon, the Blob and walleye Pollock, effects of ocean acidification on Pacific cod, an evaluation of management strategies under projected environmental changes, as well as coastal community adaptation to climate change and environmental variability.

Register online at https://seagrant.uaf.edu/events/ssl/register.php?id=269

NPFMC Meets in Juneau, Alaska June 5-14

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council has posted the agenda and schedule for its Juneau June 5-14 meeting online. The agenda includes finalizing five-year research priorities, and final action on Area 4 halibut IFQ leasing by community development quota groups. Also on the agenda for final action are the Bering Sea yellowfin sole trawl limited access fishery and the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands crab harvest specifications for three stocks and plan team report. Federal fisheries managers will also hear discussion papers on American Fisheries Act and non-AFA small sideboard elimination, Gulf of Alaska crab habitat conservation measures and allocation review triggers.

All NPFMC meetings are open to the public, except for executive sessions. The deadline for written comments is May 30. They should be sent via email to npfmc.comments@noaa.gov.

The council meeting will be broadcast at https://npfmc.adobeconnect.com/june2017 All motions will be posted online following the meeting.

The meeting schedule is available at: http://www.npfmc.org/wp-content/PDFdocuments/meetings/SCHEDULE0617.pdf

The agenda can be found at: http://legistar2.granicus.com/npfmc/meetings/2017/6/957_A_North_Pacific_Council_17-06-05_Meeting_Agenda.pdf

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